BY JIM DURHAM
JULY 22, 2019
None of the 32 players who’ll make up the 2019 Lexington Challenger field a week from today are among the world’s Top 100 – YET. But, you can bet some of them will be by next year.
Take last year’s Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships winner Lloyd Harris, who competed here as the 6-seed with a #216 ranking. A year later the South African is ranked No. 82. Recently, Harris reached the French Open 2nd round with a 5-set victory and put a brief scare into Roger Federer by winning their 1st set 6-3 on Centre Court Wimbledon.
Matter of fact, 20 participants here (from as far back as 2006) are currently in the Top 100 – including two other past Lexington champs – No. 14 John Isner (2007 as a Wild Card); No. 61 John Milman of Australia (2015 as our 2-seed).
South Africa’s Kevin Anderson – now at No. 11 – got no further than Lexington’s 2nd round in his three attempts, dating back to 2006, ‘07 and ‘09. And, No.21 Milos Raonic of Canada had to retire 2nd round in his lone 2010 appearance. Both Anderson and Raonic, as well as Isner were seeded at Wimbledon a month ago.
And, all three have previously cracked the Top Ten in the World! (Roanic was a career-high #3 in November, 2016; Anderson #5 earlier this year; Isner was #8 in July 2018 after reaching the Wimbledon semis.)
So, tennis fans, to identify some of the best rising talent in the world, you’d do well to come out often to the Boone Center, July 29-August 4.
Here are the current world rankings of the men we call “Lexington alumni.” (We’ll have the female alums in a separate story). An asterisk (*) denotes a LEX title-holder:
11 – Kevin Anderson, Australia – began year #5, lost 2nd round in 2019 Australian Open to Frances Tiafoe.
14 – * John Isner, USA – began year #9, then lost 1st round Australian to Opelka 7-6 in the 4th; lost 2nd round Wimbledon in 5 sets as 9-seed.
21 – Milos Raonic, Canada – retired to Alex Kuznetzov here in 2010 2nd round; was #14 early this year; but fell in Australian quarters and Wimbledon 16s to lower seeds.
41 – Frances Tiafoe, USA – lost ‘16 LEX final in tiebreak to Ernest Escobedo; career-high #29 a month after reaching 2019 Australian Open quarters.
43 – Jordan Thompson, Australia – 4-seed lost 2nd round to eventual champ Escobedo in 2016. Partnered Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon ‘19.
54 – Cameron Norrie, Great Britain – played for Texas Christian (2104-17), where he was the No. 1 collegian for awhile; reached 2018 semis here, losing to Milman; career-high #41 in May of this year.
55 – Daniel Evans, Great Britain – 3 times he’s lost in LEX 1st rd; 2nd time as 4-seed in 2014, then as 3-seed in 2016.
56 – Juan Ignacio Londero, Argentina – lost 2016 LEX 1st round to Kuznetzov; this year reached French Open 4th round. By virtue of runner-up Swedish Open finish yesterday, he had highest jump in rankings among our “alums” of 15 spots from previous week!
57 – Reilly Opelka, USA – fell in our 2016 qualies, year after winning Wimbledon Juniors; upset 22-seed Stan Wawrinka in 2nd round of Wimbledon ‘19, 8-6 in the 5th.
61 – * John Milman, Australia – in addition to 2015 crown here as 2-seed, he lost a tight 3-setter Final as the 3-seed to 4-seed Michael Mmoh in 2017.
62 – Martin Klizan, Slovakia – fell in 2007 LEX quarters, a year after winning French Open juniors; in 2012, won 2 rounds at Wimbledon and 4 at the US Open; in 2014, he reached 3rd round at 2014 Australian and French, and 3rd again at ‘19 French. Career-high #24 in April 2015.
64 – Adrian Mannarino, France – our top seed lost in 2016 2nd round; has reached 4th round of Wimbledon 3 times and 3rd round of US Open 3 times. Career-high #22 in March 2018.
70 – Tennys Sandgren, USA – a Tennessee Vol at No. 3, he struggled to qualify here for several years; making main draw in ‘12, he lost to eventual winner Denis Kudla in 2nd round; his best LEX showing was 2013, losing to Bradley Klahn in quarters. Really made name for himself at Wimbledon ‘19, taking out seeds Giles Simon and Fabio Fognini before losing rd-of-16 to American Sam Querrey in close 4-setter.
71 – Alexander Bublik, Kazakhstan – lost in 2017 quarters here as 2-seed. But, yesterday was runner-up to Isner 6 & 3 in Hall of Fame Final at Newport, giving him a 12-spot jump in the rankings!
73 – Yoshihito Nishioka, Japan – as a qualifier, lost 1st round here in 2014; then as 5-seed lost in ‘15 quarters; has reached 2nd round of Australian, French and U.S. Open; career-high #58 in March 2017.
82 – * Lloyd Harris, South Africa – lost 1 & 1 in our 2017 2nd round to 3-seed John Milman; but returned following year as 6-seed to win title over 8-seed Stefano Napolitano of Italy 4 & 3.
84 – Marius Copil, Romania; 7-seed in 2014; took 1st set 7-5 from 22-seed David Goffin in 2019 Australian 2nd round before dropping next 3 sets.
90 – Thomas Fabiano, Italy – a qualifier in 2012, lost 1st round; career-high #71 after reaching 3rd round of 2017 U.S. Open; reached 3rd round of this year’s Australian and Wimbledon.
94 – Bradley Klahn, USA – as 5-seed, lost in our 2013 semis to 6-seed James Duckworth. Klahn won the 2010 NCAA singles title as a Stanford sophomore. He had the biggest drop this week among LEX alums, 10 spots.
96 – Mackenzie McDonald, USA – in 2016, he won both the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA Bruin, then turned pro; as a qualifier here that summer, he lost 1st round. In 2018, McDonald reached the 4th round of Wimbledon; in both 2018 and ‘19, he made 2nd round of the Australian.
DROP SHOT: American Denis Kudla was almost the fourth former Lexington Challenger champ to make the Top 100 this week, but he fell one spot to 101 from the previous rankings. A good example of perseverance at the Challenger level, he lost 1st round here a couple years before taking the 2012 Lexington title. As the 4-seed he defeated 8-seed Erik Chvojka of Canada 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 in that final. Kudla reached the 4th round of 2015 Wimbledon; and 2nd round of US Open and Australian five times, including the latter this year. His career high is #43, coming in May 2016.